Deadly storm strikes Mississippi

BY SUSAN KIM | PONTOTOC, MS | February 25, 2001

Possible tornadoes destroyed or damaged some 300 homes, according to Paul Ballard, spokesperson for the American Red Cross. What will likely be two shelters are being set up as soon as locations are decided, he said. "Then we'll put posters up to let people know where to go."

Some emergency operations have been working from the Agriculture Center, said Melinda Griffin, spokesperson for the center.

The north Mississippi community, located 30 minutes outside Tupelo, is densely populated. Houses were blown off their foundations as the

twisters traveled from one end of the Pontotoc County to the other.

"The destruction is everywhere," said Pontotoc resident Gay Hunter. "Everywhere people are cutting trees, and trying to salvage their

belongings. But a lot of the roads are still blocked. They're not even letting family members back in there."

Power lines are down across the entire area. Ambulances are still having trouble accessing some destroyed areas, and many residents are

not yet allowed back into their neighborhoods.

Those who are allowed back have been sifting through belongings to see what's salvageable.

Local churches quickly activated to check on their members and neighbors, and to feed and house storm survivors and emergency workers.

The state police and other emergency workers have set up a trailer office near the Victory Baptist Church, which lost its steeple in the storm. "We have no power so they're hooking up a generator," said volunteer Sarah Galloway.

Volunteers there have been feeding emergency workers and have been preparing meals to take out into the community. Some grocery stores and restaurants are donating food.

"We came up to see if the church was okay, and we saw the destruction out the back window. I was glad I could do something. I was upset that people I know were killed. I grew up with some of them, and I can't even get to their house. Their house is gone," said Galloway. "We're all in shock."

The County Line Baptist Church is preparing food for emergency workers and storm survivors. "We're checking on neighbors," said church member Sherry Blackwelder. "Everybody's volunteering."

The West Heights Baptist Church is also providing food, and has set up a shelter for people who need a place to stay.

The First United Methodist Church is also preparing food and is distributing water.

Already, some emergency response leaders are asking donors to provide cash, not material goods. "We don't need clothes," said Ballard.

A dozen homes in the Benoit area also sustained damage, and the Jordan Grove Missionary Baptist Church east of Benoit was destroyed. A few homes in Leflore County sustained damage as well. Two subdivisions east of Greenwood also reported damage.

Hail the size of marbles knocked windows out of the Bolivar County Courthouse.

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